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What Went Wrong with Reporting on The Steubenville Rape Trial

You may have missed the whole rape trial thing in Ohio.

Let’s sum up: Star high school footballers rape a 16-year-old, passed-out-drunk girl. They post video and print evidence of their crimes in social media (yes, they were that positive they would not be punished for their deeds. In fact, they thought it appropriate to brag). Girl reports it after she comes to and finds said evidence. Nothing happens. Various online groups bring the night and the crimes to national attention. Trial happens. Footballers are convicted. CNN and other news outlets report on the tears footballers display at the verdict. They are overly sympathetic to the criminals.

Online outrage ensues. This petition pops up overnight and goes viral.

So what happened? CNN reporters are not amateurs. But they are stuck in a basic human bias that doesn’t become a respected international news organization. They report on the drama they see; they leave out the drama they don’t see. It’s called Attentional Bias and we can take some action to prevent it from happening in the future, even if the CNN idiots are too stupid to be responsible enough to be civilized humans themselves.

If you have a blog, if you have time, money, energy or even just a minute in a water cooler conversation, bring up Jane Doe, the unseen but very real victim in this case. Bring up all the Janes that have gone forgotten and neglected by the justice system. We are living in a culture where very, very few rapes are persecuted at all. Women don’t have power in this society so we tend to not be believed or we tend to be blamed for things that happen to us.

I’m not saying fight back or start marching if you don’t want to. I’m just saying, quietly persist. In the office, at the dinner table. Quietly persist in making Jane present in the conversation. Because she is all of us. She is here. She will have to live an entirely different, more painful life (if she survives the mental and emotional anguish, as well as the ostracism of her community) than she would have if this crime didn’t happen to her.

I am opening up these comments here to give you a place to tell your story if you want. Tell other people’s stories. Write fiction that reflects truth. Whatever. Jane is present. Jane is here. Jane is me. Whether you are a man or a woman or both or neither, Jane is you. Persist.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Reed Gustow 19 March 2013, 2:10 pm

    Disgusting and irresponsible coverage. I signed the petition.

  • Simple Simon 19 March 2013, 2:22 pm

    Hideous and evil. Also signed the petition and will urge everyone to do so. Absolutely inhuman.

  • Tapati McDaniels 19 March 2013, 6:02 pm

    We should ask ourselves why the vast majority of rape kits are not processed. That DNA evidence could prevent future rapes but they languish in evidence lockers. We don’t prioritize the funding to process them or, worse yet, we charge the victims in some places. If we truly cared about women who are raped we’d do something. We’d also educate young men as to what legal rape includes and what consent is.

  • Stephanie Booth 4 April 2013, 1:52 am

    Sounds like some variation on the “anecdotes trump statistics” theme. Here the rape is a “statistic”, meaning an abstract event, but the rapists are “anecdotes”, because we’ve seen them, heard them.